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Tuesday 12 November 2019

Fine Gael vows new watchdog will keep eye on public purse

Fionnan Sheahan

FINE Gael is promising to prevent overspending and relying on unsustainable taxes in government by setting up an independent watchdog on the public finances.

The independent report on the Department of Finance found it did warn the Government about the dangers of its economic policies -- but the advice was overruled by the Cabinet.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who was Finance Minister from 2004 to 2008, did not formally respond to the report last night.

But a source pointed to the finding in the report that he did, as minister, bring the department's warnings to the Cabinet table.

Fine Gael enterprise spokesman Richard Bruton said the new Government would establish an independent fiscal council to report to the Dail on budgetary policy.

"You need to spread the capacity to say 'no' more widely within the bureaucracy," he said.

Mr Bruton said the independent body would force the Government to comply with its recommendations, or explain why they were being ignored.

"In the budgetary process itself, you start with comply or explain," he said.

Mr Bruton also said his party's proposed changes to the budgetary process ensured advice about spending and taxation trends couldn't just be dismissed.

"Charlie McCreevy contemptuously slapped them down. And stamp duty kept laying the golden eggs," he said.


External expertise will also be brought into the department as Mr Bruton said: "Finance lost its way over the years".

Outgoing Finance Minister Brian Lenihan last night welcomed the report of the independent review panel, chaired by Rob Wright, called 'Strengthening the Capacity of the Department of Finance'.

"It provides a very fair and thoughtful assessment of the department's performance over the past 10 years. While a number of recommendations are matters for the new Government and require further consideration, a significant number relate to organisation, skills set and work practices -- many of which are being implemented without delay," he said.

"The implementation of these will assist the department in taking on the complex challenges arising in the coming years."

Meanwhile, the representative body for senior civil servants said the actions and decisions of Department of Finance officials were vindicated by the report.

The Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants said the report clearly stated "the actions of politicians, rather than civil servants", were the primary factors in adopting short-term policies that ultimately led to economic collapse, ignoring repeated warnings of an impending downturn and failing to respond appropriately when it hit.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern who was Taoiseach for more than 11 years and who stepped down from office in 2008, said he did not even know the report was being published and had only learned about it last night. "I will have to have a read of it," he said. "I only heard it on the headlines about an hour ago."

Irish Independent

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